Bullying at school occurs all around the world, and the United Kingdom is certainly no exception. While numerous steps have been taken to put a stop to bullying in school, the ugly truth is that it still exists all across the nation. Still, by taking the time to understand the bullying taking place in our schools we are better equipped to deal with the situation, and hopefully, put a stop to it.
Just What is Bullying?
Bullying actually can be described in many ways, and the truth is that there is so far no legal definition of the term. Having said that, bullying is most generally defined as a type of harassment or intimidation that is used to either get a person to do something they do not want to do, or to simply make them feel bad emotionally and/or physically. Especially in schools (where the same people are around one another day after day), bullying is often repetitive and can occur on a regular basis.
Bullying can also take many forms, nearly all of which have been observed in schools. A school bully may do any of the following things:
- Make threats (which they may or may not act upon)
- Engage in physical violence or assault
- Spread false, defamatory rumors
- Verbally harass their victim, such as with taunting
- Use name calling
- Get others to gang up on the victim
- Use weapons to either harm the victim further or to threaten them more intensely
- Use cell phones, computers, and/or other technology to engage in cyberbullying (more about this below)
Most schools do have their own definitions of bullying, so be sure to check with your son or daughter’s school about theirs. Ask if you can get a copy of it.
The Statistics – Who is being bullied and just what is happening?
It is no secret that bullying in schools is rather difficult to record accurately (largely due to incidents going unreported), but the data we do have tells us that it remains a very real problem. A 2008 survey from the British Council showed that bullying in schools UK was actually worse than in schools across the rest of Europe (over 3,500 pupils across England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Germany were interviewed for the survey). And since then, the UK’s problem with bullying at school unfortunately seems to have gotten only worse.
The Annual Bullying Survey of 2013 (from Ditch The Label, also covered by the Telegraph, the Independent and Radio 1) estimated that up to 69 percent of school students will experience bullying and that a person’s appearance and personal interests are actually the most common targets for a bully’s verbal assaults. Here are some more interesting (and some shocking) statistics on the United Kingdom’s bullying problem:
- Bullying has been observed in virtually every school age group, right up through university
- Bullies address everything from their victim’s family income to their cultural identity
- A full 43 percent of students are bullied on a regular basis rather than in isolated incidents
- Verbal bullying is much more common than physical (violent/assaulting) bullying, though 16 percent of students experience physical bullying on a regular basis
- About 30 percent of bullying victims believe it has had a huge impact on their social lives, while 16 percent believe it has had a huge impact on their studies
- About 17 percent of bullying victims experience a negative impact on their home life as well as a result of bullying
- The most major things affected by bullying are the victim’s self esteem and optimism
- About a quarter of bullying victims have had suicidal thoughts or those of self harm
- Over half (57 percent) of bullying victims are not happy or satisfied with the support provided to them after bullying occurs
In addition to this information, the survey also discovered that certain demographic groups are more vulnerable to bullying than others (though all groups do experience it). The groups most at risk are:
- LGBT youth (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual)
- Students with disabilities (both physical and mental)
- Students from certain religious backgrounds
- Students from certain cultural groups
- Students that come from high-income backgrounds
Now, just because your child fits any of these categories does not necessarily mean they are going to become a victim of bullying. However, it does mean that they may be more at risk, especially for it to happen repeatedly. So if your child complains of bullying at any time, it is best to not take it lightly.
While there are still many people who believe that bullying is just a natural part of school life that helps students prepare for the “real world”, the numbers speak for themselves. Bullying has a huge negative impact on an individual, and the fact that suicide and self harm can result are reason enough to make significant efforts to stop it.
When Bullying is Illegal
Fortunately, there have been some steps taken in the modern age to stop bullying, and among these are legal actions. Some forms of bullying, whether school bullying or not, actually are now in violation of the law. These include forms of bullying that involve any of the following:
- Assault or Violence
- Hate crimes (bullying someone for their nationality/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.)
- Repetitive harassment
If your child is experiencing bullying that you think may be illegal, do not be afraid to report it. It is far better to file a report now (even when you are unsure) than to wait until things get even more serious and dangerous. If your child or someone else is in immediate danger, do not hesitate to call 999 as soon as possible.
Other School Bullying Laws
As of 2014, all state schools are required to have a behaviour policy for their students and staff members in order to help prevent every form of bullying. While each school bullying policy is determined by the school officials, all other staff members (especially teachers), students and their parents must be informed about it. Schools in England, Wales and most schools in Scotland are also required by law to follow the United Kingdom’s anti-discrimination law, which means students are able to take legal action if they are discriminated against because of their gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, etc. Schools in Northern Ireland are required to follow a similar law.
Some private schools also have these bullying policies in place, but they are not required by law to do so. Certain groups have made efforts to get private schools under the anti-bullying law as well, but the future of this remains uncertain for now.
Still a bit unsure of what exactly these laws entail? You can also view the current anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws online at www.gov.uk.
Although bullying has been in existence for decades, perhaps centuries, a fairly new phenomenon is what is known as “cyberbullying”. Thanks to modern technology, it is now possible for bullies to harass their victims when they’re not even on school property or standing face to face. The good news is that cyberbullying has been put in the spotlight over the past several years, and now schools are getting involved to spread awareness and put a stop to it as well. Even if a student is not being bullied at school, they can still be bullied by a fellow classmate via the online world.
So, what exactly is cyberbullying? Like the general term, “bullying”, it has multiple definitions and can be described in a number of ways. To put it broadly though, cyberbullying is harassment or intimidation through the use of social media, text messaging, emails or other forms of internet/communication technology.
“Cyberbullies” may take any number of the following actions:
- Send harassing emails, text messages or messages via social media
- Post photos or other content that purposely make their victim look bad
- Pretend to be another person online and deceive the victim
- Openly taunt the victim on their social media pages
- Set up and distribute online polls meant to embarass and/or draw out negative opinions about the victim
- Purposely send spam or computer viruses to the victim
- Send pornography or other inappropriate content to make the victim feel uncomfortable
- Distribute the victim’s online and/or cell phone contact information to unsafe third parties
Like regular bullying, much of this behaviour is often repeated. And according to Ditch the Label’s annual report, cyberbullying is becoming an increasingly stressful problem. In fact, about 5.43 million young people living in the UK are estimated to have experienced cyberbullying at some point, and about 1.26 million of them are estimated to experience severe cyberbullying on a daily basis. Because they have the highest levels of user traffic, Facebook, Ask.FM and Twitter are reported to be the main platforms where cyberbullying takes place.
What Can Be Done to Stop School Bullying
As much of a problem as bullying among today’s students is, there is still hope. In fact, many things can still be done to help put an end to bullying. These include the following:
- Always tell your child that you are open to talking about bullying and that they should never be afraid to come to you with their social problems
- Take action immediately if and when bullying is suspected
- Learn the details about your child’s school’s policy on bullying (if they go to a private school and no such policy is currently in place, talk with school officials and other parents are getting one set up)
- Make sure your child knows what bullying is and why it is harmful (as much as we do not like to think about it, the truth is that our children can be bullies in addition to being victims. Ensure that your child and their friends know that bullying is wrong)
- Get to know the other students that your child socializes with
- Encourage your child to get involved with safe extracurricular activities (this will help them build a secure social group and keep them occupied)
When it comes to cyberbullying, there are additional measures parents can take to help prevent their child from being a victim:
- Talk to your child about internet safety
- Help your child set up appropriate privacy settings on their social media pages
- If your child appears distressed while using their phone or computer (or after they are done), do not be afraid to ask why
- Stay informed on who your child is “friends” with on their social media pages and who they have in their cell phone contact list
- Set time limits for computer and cell phone use
At the same time, remember to not be “over protective” of your child. It is easy to try and access every part of their life in order to keep them safe, but this will quickly make them feel smothered and, as a result, be less willing to talk with you when a bullying situation does occur. Remember that there is a difference between “staying informed” and interrogating your child and/or checking their text messages every minute. They should trust you enough to feel comfortable coming to you and discussing bullying issues.
It is obvious that bullying is a serious issue, but that does not mean things need to stay this way in the future. By taking action now and getting children involved in stopping bullying, we can hopefully decrease the numbers of bullying in UK schools with each new generation of students.